September 24th, 2008

FINAL EXAM (1981) **

A killer murders two teens necking in the woods and then heads off to a nearby college to find more fresh meat for his Ginsu.  The local police are pissed off that one of the college’s fraternities has been pulling pranks in which they pretend to murder freshmen, so they refuse to show up when the killer starts turning co-eds into scrapple.  Predictably, there’s one spunky virginal chick who is able to go toe to toe with the blank-faced killer for the climb-to-the-top-of-the-bell-tower finale. 


Final Exam was one of the many, many, many, many, many slasher movies that came out after the wake of the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th.  Since it lacks the nudity and gore you would expect from one of these things, it’s instantly forgettable.  Nearly all of the kills are identical.  The killer wields his butcher knife high in the air and brings it down a couple times then director Jimmy (My Best Friend is a Vampire) Huston cuts away to a blanket or a wall or something and we see a bit of blood splattering.  The only kill that has a little flair is when the idiot frat boy gets strangled on a workout machine.  Other than that, the murders aren’t much to brag about.  Even worse is that most of the kills are weighted towards the last half hour of the film.  And with the exception of a couple different notes here and there, the music sounds almost exactly like John Carpenter’s synthesizer score for Halloween.


Actually, Final Exam isn’t all THAT bad.  Yeah, I know I sound like I’m complaining a shitload of a lot, but if you’ve sat down and watched like maybe three dozen slasher movies in your time, then Final Exam would be far from the bottom of the barrel. 


The one thing I really liked about the movie is that the killer had no back story.  He just walked around college campuses killing people.  There were no flashbacks of his traumatic childhood, no “I’m doing this because…” speeches, no doctor spewing out tons of exposition; nothing.  He didn’t even wear a mask and his face wasn’t really ever obscured or anything.  And you know what?  It was kind of refreshing.  That doesn’t exactly make it a kick ass movie or anything, I’m just saying.


The nervous nerdy guy gets the best line of the movie when he says “Senseless murder is a modern day phenomenon!”


(Special Note:  Usually I don’t like to pat myself on the back or anything, but I think you all have to give it up for me for not succumbing to temptation and using a lot of stupid puns like “Final Exam TESTED my patience!”, or “Final Exam gets FAILING MARKS from me!”, or “Final Exam doesn’t MAKE THE GRADE!”, or some shit like that during the course of this review.)


The year was 1984.  Charles Bronson hadn’t made a Death Wish movie in two years so that meant that there were a lot of slimy punks on the street that still needed to be mopped up.  Lucky for exploitation fans, Linda Blair was walking the Savage Streets armed with her trusty crossbow and ready, willing and able to carry the vigilante torch until ol’ Chuck got back into the game.  Yes, Linda Blair, fresh off the one-two punch of Hell Night and Chained Heat, stars in this semi-classic as a high school student who goes on a one woman crusade against the gangs after they rape her deaf-mute sister (horror starlet Linnea Quigley) and toss her best friend off of an overpass. 


I have a certain affinity for vigilante pictures so I’m just going to gloss over the various shortcomings within the piece.  I don’t care if the pacing hems and haws like a geriatric trying to pinch a loaf.  I don’t care if most of the side characters are as annoying as a six pound tumor on your Johnson.  I don’t care if most of the action takes longer to come than an over the hill hooker.  Point is that revenge pictures work because we all feel the need deep down inside to kick a little ass whenever we’ve been wronged.  Movies like this tap into our innate deep seeded yearning for bloodlust and Savage Streets, when it works, does a damn fine job of it. 


Director Danny (Friday the 13th Part 5:  A New Beginning) Steinmann for the most part does solid work behind the camera.  Although he botches a couple opportunities for genuine suspense and lets many scenes go on a lot longer than they should (That nightclub scene goes on FOREVER!  Seriously Danny, did you really need to film the band’s entire set list?), when it comes down to dealing out the trashy exploitation goods (girls’ shower room scenes, blouse ripping catfights, etc.), Steinmann is a master. 


There were a lot of stylish touches Steinmann did that endeared me to this movie.  I especially liked the way Linnea did that little ballerina routine just before the punks pulled a train on her.  It’s as if that little dance was her final moment of purity before the gang sullied her innocence forever.  The Latina best friend gets a similar moment when she gets to try on her wedding dress just before the thugs throw her off the overpass.  Steinmann knows his way around the vigilante genre and the first rule is you got to show somebody truly HAPPY before you rob them of everything.  Kudos, Danny. 


I also loved that before Linda Blair went to the all night army surplus store to buy her crossbow and dish out a healthy dose of teenage justice, it was mandatory for her to doll herself up by putting on a truck load of make-up and spraying in 2 full bottles of Vidal Sassoon in her hair.  I mean if you’re going out for revenge there is no reason why you can’t look your best while doing it.  Am I right, ladies?


The cast is aces and really sells this thing for all it’s worth.  Blair is great when she’s butting heads with the prissy preppy bitch and even better when she’s on the prowl slinging arrows into creeps.  She also looks dynamite naked in the tub and does some of her best acting there as well. 


And I don’t know about you, but I love me some Linnea Quigley.  Especially in this movie.  Usually she plays the trashy skank ho, but in this flick she gets to show us the full range of her acting talents by playing the virginal deaf-mute.  And man, this is some of the finest virginal deaf-mute acting since Patty Duke was in The Miracle Worker.  Scratch that, Linnea is better because she shows off her ta-tas. 


And fucking John Vernon is in the movie too.  He was so great in Chained Heat with Linda that I guess they were just dying to work together again.  Vernon is awesome as the foul mouthed principal and gets the best scenes in the entire movie whenever he’s chewing Linda out for her various shenanigans.  He also gets the best line when he tells the no-good punks to “Go fuck an iceberg!”


AKA:  Zombie Brigade.